May 26, 2010, 6:00 PM EDT
Going into Wednesday’s games, 10 American League relievers had made at least 22 appearances. Five of them happen to pitch for the same team:
1. Will Ohman (Orioles) – 25
2. Daniel Bard (Red Sox) – 24
2. Neftali Feliz (Rangers) – 24
2. Chris Ray (Rangers) – 24
5. Scott Downs (Blue Jays) – 23
6. Randy Choate (Rays) – 22
6. Phil Coke (Tigers) – 22
6. Frank Francisco (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren O’Day (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren Oliver (Rangers) – 22
With 46 games in the books, five Rangers relievers are on pace to appear in about 80 games. A sixth, Dustin Nippert, has appeared in 19 games and thrown 24 2/3 innings, so while he hasn’t been as used as often, he’s on pace to throw 87 innings in relief.
Breakdowns are almost certainly on the way. Feliz, who was handled so carefully after being moved to the pen last year, is on 86-inning pace. Francisco has a history of arm problems and has never thrown more than 63 1/3 innings as a major leaguer. He’s on pace for 73 right now.
Ray, in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, hasn’t put in a full season since 2006. O’Day was given up on by the Angels two years ago because of a shoulder injury.
Oliver has a track record of durability, but his current 83-inning pace would be a new career high for him as a reliever. He threw 72 and 73 innings in his last two years with the Angels. The appearances might be more of an issue here than the innings. The Angels tended to give him longer appearances than the Rangers have. He appeared in 54 games in 2008 and 63 last year. Right now, he’s on pace for 77 appearances.
The Rangers do have fallbacks on the way. Matt Harrison, who opened the year in the rotation, is going to try his hand at relieving after returning from a case of biceps tendinitis. And top prospect Tanner Scheppers could be this year’s Feliz if he’s needed in a setup role later this year.
Still, manager Ron Washington is walking a dangerous path. In doing so much mixing and matching of O’Day, Ray and Oliver based on matchups, he’s given them workloads they’re simply not accustomed to. If he’s going to keep those guys healthy, he’ll have to start winning some games while using only two or three of his best relievers, rather than four or five.
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